March 8, 2006

1,000 migrants die this year off Canaries: Red Cross

By Ben Harding

MADRID (Reuters) - More than 1,000 migrants have died
trying to reach Spain's Canary Islands this year, the Red Cross
estimated, as more and more Africans attempt to break into
"Fortress Europe" by using ever longer sea routes.

Officially, 106 immigrants have died trying to reach the
Canaries since late December, most sailing north from

However, Jaime Bara, head of African affairs at the Spanish
Red Cross, said on Wednesday that the real figure was far

"We estimate it is 10 times that number," he told Reuters.

Last week, dozens of migrants died in two shipwrecks off
the Western Saharan and Mauritanian coasts, while on Tuesday
scores of migrants were found alive in a boat that had drifted
for three days off Mauritania, Spanish state radio reported.

Mauritania's Red Crescent on Wednesday put the number of
those found alive in the boat off the West African coast at 75.
The boat had put out a distress signal.

"These people have been rescued by a Mauritanian coastal
surveillance boat," said a spokesman for Mauritania's Red

"It seems that they are not in danger, there are no
seriously injured, and there is no medical emergency."

Every day an estimated 200 to 600 immigrants set sail for
the Canaries from settlements stretching from northern
Mauritania to Guinea Bissau, Bara said, a voyage of between
1,000 and 2,000 km (600-1,200 miles) that costs them 1,000
euros ($1,190) each.

The route has become popular in recent months as Morocco,
under pressure from Spain and the European Union, has cracked
down on people smugglers who had ferried migrants across the
100 km stretch from Morocco to the Canaries.

Tougher Spanish security and better detection had already
slashed the number of immigrants sailing the short distance
across the Mediterranean to Spain itself or scaling Spain's
border fence around its north African enclaves of Melilla and

A report in Wednesday's El Pais newspaper said Spanish
secret service agents estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000
people were waiting in camps across Western Sahara and
Mauritania, intent on making the voyage to Europe.

The Red Cross is caring for around 1,600 immigrants who had
landed in the Canaries in the first two months of this year,
Bara said.

Forty percent of the fishing boats, built for six to 10
fisherman but which usually carry around 50 immigrants, got
into difficulties and sunk or had to turn back, Bara said.

(Additional reporting by Ibrahima Sylla in Nouakchott)